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Research relevant to the well-being and rights of children Anne B. Smith University of Otago NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Fellow.

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Presentation on theme: "Research relevant to the well-being and rights of children Anne B. Smith University of Otago NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Fellow."— Presentation transcript:

1 Research relevant to the well-being and rights of children Anne B. Smith University of Otago NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Fellow

2 Continuation of theme and Conclusion of Lecture Series Moral imperative of children’s rights to make a difference in children’s lives; The role that research and researchers (together with others) play in promoting reforms to enhance children’s rights; But what should be studied, how should it be studied, and how should it be reported and disseminated?

3 Personal Impetus Childwatch International Research Network Critical issues in the lives of children Promotion of their well-being, rights, participation Current conditions of childhood Finding a vision and a place in the global community for our research centre

4 Children’s Rights/Childhood Studies Impetus “A critique of the ways that children’s lives are organised and regulated, and childhood undervalued in modern societies” (Alanen, 2011) A concern for social justice and what makes a difference in children’s lives Treating children as agents and social actors reduces danger of exploitation and neglect of children’s concerns Monitoring implementation of children’s rights

5 Constructions of children/childhood “Research is a cultural practice, marked by specific patterns of adult-child relationships through which children’s nature is constructed as much as it is revealed” (Woodhead & Faulkner, 2008). Assumptions about: Children’s competence Children to be shaped as “becomings” What children should be doing (ie not paid work)

6 Problem with some topics Lack of shared meaning between children and adults Research vacuum in some important but sensitive areas (eg child protection) Children constructed as vulnerable to harm Gatekeepers protecting children Adults certain that they can protect children’s best interests Worries about what children might say (about families, professionals, carers)

7 Choice of approach Different research questions demand different research approaches; Multiple roles for children in research – advisors, co- researchers, initiators, informants, respondents; Not all research has to position children as the main informants, but they should not be rendered invisible; Children are participants in helping researchers advocate for improvements to policy.

8 Guided Participation Guidance/scaffolding promotes children’s capacity to tell their stories; Informed consent requires: Effective communication (including listening) Sensitivity to feelings Warm relationships Balance of power The child positioned as expert

9 Children as Experts “I enjoyed it. There should be more opportunities for us to say what we think to people that will listen to what we have to say” (foster care child, Boylan & Ing, 2005) “They appeared motivated by their assignment to teach me about matters of which I knew little so that I could then pass what I learned on to authorities and service agencies” (study of children and domestic violence, Solberg, 2012) Mathias’s story of abuse as told to Solberg

10 Ethics of Respect Children “are principal stakeholders in their own well- being” (Woodhead & Faulkner). The medium is the message – social scientists will accomplish little without proper respect for child participants (Gary Melton, 2005) To be treated like people (no different from the way adults expect to be treated) – see BPS Respect for (and understanding of) culture such as body language

11 What works to help children tell? Four year-olds reflecting on their learning using photographs: Focus group led by researcher Focus group led by early childhood teacher Interview with child and friend Interview with child and mother One-to-one interview with child Productive conversations emerged from children’s experience and stimulated recall (Smith, Duncan & Marshall, 2005)

12 Feedback and Dissemination Children have the right to receive information and ideas “in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice” (Article 13) Children as stakeholders have the right to hear about the research findings Research publications reach a restricted audience – not including participants (or policy-makers) Feedback usually directed at adults but children can be included

13 Ethical Dilemma – Confidentiality vs Responsibility to Participants Major (ESRC) project on youth crime, anti-social behaviour, substance abuse, truancy (yearly surveys) Aim to understand more about pathways and patterns Children said that they had no friends self harmed, used drugs, adults were abusing them But nothing done to help these YP or alert anyone to issues. School principals readily agreed to research (Sarah Nelson, 2013, “See no evil, hear no evil”)

14 Approaches to Research 1: The micro orientation Critique of universalizing discourses - “spurious veneer of coherence on diverse childhoods” (Woodhead & Faulkner, 1996) Qualitative studies of children’s views Diversity of children’s experience Resisting the temptation to overgeneralize findings Care of Children Act 2004 recognised danger of over generalizing A child must be given reasonable opportunities to express views affecting the child; Any views the child expresses must be taken into account; The welfare and best interests of the particular child in his or her particular circumstances must be considered; Regardless of the child’s age it must not be assumed that …[presumption of contact]

15 Approaches to Research 2: The macro-orientation Jens Qvortrup critique of micro-orientation in the study of childhood as “ No one method alone can produce all the knowledge needed”. “It is sometimes suggested by researchers that it is dangerous to generalize, because we lose information; this is indeed true, but, I would suggest, losing information in a controlled way is the very idea of research. It was never the task of researchers to tell everything they knew; on the contrary, the task was always to sort out the most important features and findings” … (Qvortrup, 2008, p. 67)

16 The need for Plurality Paradigm wars are ‘phony’ (Roberts), use of RCT trials were dismissed as technocratic Structural issues require large scale research eg How is children’s health affected by fiscal restraint? How is children’s learning influenced by adverse adult-child ratios? Evidence should be interpreted broadly – qualitative research and formative evaluation can contribute, RCT may be narrow and decontextualised Unwise to throw out the baby with the bathwater (Woodhead, 2009)

17 Alison James (2007) “One way forward toward sustaining childhood research would be to set the by-now commonplace qualitative studies of children’s own perspectives, voices, and agency alongside other work that explores the structural conditions that shape childhood as a generational space. Such an integration would help ensure that we do not lose sight of the different impacts that societal forces such as the market, neoliberalism, the state, urbanization, and so on have on childhood as a generational unit”. (James, 2007, p. 170)

18 Optimizing the Uptake Problems with linear unidirectional models Consumers should be able to set agenda as well as respond Input of policy-makers and practitioners crucial Relationships between researchers and users negotiated over time, require mutual respect and understanding Tailoring dissemination to different audiences

19 Move towards Translational and Interdisciplinary Research Smooth pathways between research and implementation; Collaboration and communication among researchers, practitioners and policy-makers; Common language and shared criteria for validity; Research should “move comfortably between basic information to application and back again with great fluidity” (Gunnar & Cicchetti, 2009)

20 Barriers and Supports for Uptake Supports Knowledgeable and research savvy public servants Small size, personal relationships (in NZ) Educated practitioners and NGOs Political will and vision to ask right questions Barriers Contestable and restricted research funding Applied research outputs not valued in academia Political agendas and lack of political will Lack of funding for dissemination

21 Conclusions The value of a children’s rights/childhood studies impetus How we construct children/childhood shapes what we research, how we research and how we use research Research with children rather than research on children Plurality of research approaches recognises the importance of both structure and agency Dangers in narrow view of the ‘evidence-base’ Collaborations and political will necessary to achieve change.


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